Chinese rights lawyer jailed for 12 years

BEIJING — A court has sentenced defence lawyer Xia Lin to 12 years in prison, his attorney said yesterday, the latest blow in a broad crackdown on human rights defenders and activists.

Xia is best known for his work defending artist Ai Weiwei and fellow rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was detained after a private seminar discussing the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“The court sentenced Xia Lin to 12 years in prison for fraud,” his lawyer, Dong Xikui, said.

Police detained Xia in November 2014, and later charged him with fraudulently obtaining 100 million yuan (RM62 million) to pay off gambling debts, according to a defence statement.

His trial opened in Beijing in June.

“We pleaded not guilty, but the court adopted only part of our defence opinion and reduced the amount of fraud from more than 100 million down to 48 million,” his lawyer said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a tightening of controls on civil society since assuming power in 2012, closing avenues for legal activism that opened up in recent years.

While the government initially targeted political activists and human rights campaigners, it has increasingly turned its attention to the legal professionals who represent them.

In the most striking example, authorities detained more than 200 people last year during the so-called “709 crackdown” — named after the July 9th date of the roundup — including lawyers who took on civil rights cases considered sensitive by China’s ruling Communist party.

Pu, the lawyer detained over the Tiananmen event, received a three-year suspended prison term last December for “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in a case that drew international condemnation.

Xia’s sentence was unusually tough, according to Maya Wang, an Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, and will “send a deep chill through the community of human rights lawyers who have been under a sustained crackdown under President Xi’s government in the past year”.

“The sentence is shocking, not only because of its length, but also because it was handed down to a rights lawyer who tried to protect himself by deliberately taking a low-profile, technical approach to his work.” — AFP


Chan, Zuckerberg pledge RM12b 
to fight disease

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan on Wednesday pledged more than US$3 billion (RM12.4 billion) toward a plan to “cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime”.

Speaking through tears at a San Francisco event to announce the initiative, Chan said she hoped to spare parents the pain she had seen while delivering difficult news as a pediatrician.

“In those moments and in many others we’re at the limit of what we understand about the human body and disease, the science behind medicine, the limit of our ability to alleviate suffering. We want to push back that boundary,” she said.

The event was attended by business and political luminaries including former Microsoft Corp chairman Bill Gates, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.

Zuckerberg said science and the medical community have made rapid advancements over the last 50 years, including eradicating smallpox and nearly eliminating polio without the aid of modern technology.

“Today, just four kinds of diseases cause the majority of deaths,” Zuckerberg said in a posting on his Facebook page, citing cancer, heart disease, infectious diseases and neurological diseases.

“We can make progress on all of them with the right technology.”

The plan includes creating a bioscience research centre, called the Biohub, developing a chip to diagnose diseases, and ways to monitor the bloodstream continuously and map cell types in the body.

Chan and Zuckerberg will donate US$600 million (RM2.48 billion) over the next decade to the Biohub in San Francisco, bringing together Bay-area researchers and scientists from the University of California at San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

Two initial Biohub projects will be a Cell Atlas, a map of cells controlling the body’s major organs, and the Infectious Disease Initiative to develop new tools, tests, vaccines and strategies for fighting diseases such as HIV, Ebola and Zika.

The Biohub will be led by University of California, San Francisco professor Joseph DeRisi and Stanford University professor Stephen Quake, whose work includes small molecule screening and biological measurements.

Dr Cori Bargmann, a Rockefeller University neuroscientist, will lead all of Chan Zuckerberg’s science initiatives.

Any research, tools and material coming out of Biohub, which will work with a network of 10 to 15 laboratories across the world, will be “available to every scientist, everywhere,” Bargmann said.

“If you take great people and set them loose on important problems in an intelligent way and give them a long time horizon there will be progress.” — Reuters

Indonesian landslide death toll rises to 26

JAKARTA — The death toll from devastating floods and landslides in Indonesia has risen to 26, an official said yesterday, with hopes fading for 19 others still missing.

Aid has begun pouring into Garut in the west of Indonesia’s main island of Java, where 23 people died and 18 remain missing after torrential rain and fast-rising floods swept through the region, the national disaster agency said.

Receding flood waters revealed scenes of destruction, with houses reduced to rubble and upturned cars and debris strewn throughout muddy streets.

Among the dead or missing are more than a dozen children under 12 years of age, though several have yet to be formally identified, the agency said.

Relief teams and army personnel have moved into Garut to search for those still missing, while drones are assessing the scale of destruction from the air, disaster agency head Willem Rampangilei said in a statement.

“There is plenty of food and clean water available. The community is also helping out,” Rampangilei said, adding that a disaster report had been sent to President Joko Widodo.

Temporary shelters and makeshift kitchens have been established to assist the estimated 430 people left homeless, with blankets and clothing being trucked in by emergency crews.

Elsewhere in West Java, emergency crews were still searching for one person missing in the wake of a massive landslide in Sumedang district that killed three others, disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

An avalanche of mud, rock and water tore through a village in Sumedang on Tuesday without warning, flattening homes and a mosque and burying people beneath rubble.

Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia, a vast tropical archipelago prone to natural disasters and torrential downpours.

The country’s disaster agency warned people to be alert for disasters this wet season as a La Nina weather phenomenon threatens unseasonably heavy rain.

In June nearly 50 people died when heavy downpours sent torrents of water, mud and rock surging into villages in Central Java, another densely-populated province on Indonesia’s main island. — AFP


Taiwan asks Google to

blur images of island

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s defence ministry asked Google to blur images of a new development believed to be for military use on a disputed South China Sea island. Taiwan administers Taiping island, the largest in the Spratlys archipelago. The island chain is also claimed in part or whole by the Philippines, Vietnam and China. Google satellite images show a circular structure with four Y-shaped attachments, jutting out to sea on Taiping’s northwestern coast. The ministry said it was contacting Google to ask them to blur the satellite images, but would not comment further on what the structures are. — AFP

Afghanistan to sign

peace deal with warlord

KABUL — Afghanistan was set to sign a draft peace agreement yesterday with notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, paving the way for his political return despite a history of war crimes and after years in hiding. Hekmatyar, who heads the now largely dormant Hezb-i-Islami militant group, is the latest in a series of controversial figures that Kabul has sought to reintegrate in the post-Taliban era. The deal with Afghanistan’s second-biggest militant group marks a symbolic victory for President Ashraf Ghani, who struggled to revive peace talks with the more powerful Taliban. — AFP

Barefoot Bushman

hurt after croc attack

SYDNEY — A crocodile handler known as the “Barefoot Bushman” was seriously hurt after being mauled by a massive creature while feeding it at an Australian wildlife park yesterday. Rob Bredl, 66, was bitten by the 4.5m crocodile at Bredl’s Wild Farm in Bloomsbury on Queensland state’s central coast, the local ambulance service said. He suffered a “severe laceration to his left hand and also some bite marks to his lower right leg”, paramedic Heather Shields said. “(He was) extremely lucky,” Shields said. “He said that it was a fully grown adult crocodile about 4.5m long so he is very lucky. He said it happened on land. It was attempting to drag him to the water but he’s got away before he was submerged.” — AFP

Celebrities diss Trump, rally voters to polls

NEW YORK — Some of America’s biggest stars — including actors Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson — appeared in a short video unveiled on Wednesday, taking potshots at Donald Trump while rallying voters to the polls on election day.

“On Tuesday, Nov 8, this country will make one of the most important decisions in its history,” the film and stage actors say as part of the effort launched by “Save the Day,” a Super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton.

PACs, or political action committees, are organisations created to raise funds to support or oppose a given candidate or political cause.

Super PACs can raise even larger amounts of cash during the immensely expensive American political campaigns, but are forbidden from making direct contributions to a candidate.

Leslie Odom Jr — until recently a star of the hixt play Hamilton— makes a reference to Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump in the three-minute video.

“Do we really want to give nuclear weapons to a man whose signature move is firing things?” Odom asks.

Likewise, Hollywood star Don Cheadle appears to allude to the Republican presidential nominee when referring in the video to “a racist, abusive coward who could permanently damage the fabric of our society”.

Save the Day was founded by Joss Whedon, director of two installments of the hit. The Avengers. films, among other works.

The get-out-the-vote video was unveiled less than seven weeks before the Nov 8 presidential election. — AFP


State of emergency in Charlotte after fresh unrest

CHARLOTTE (N. Carolina) — One person was shot and gravely wounded on Wednesday in a second night of unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, as riot police dispersed unruly protesters after the fatal police shooting of a black man under disputed circumstances.

North Carolina’s governor later declared a state of emergency amid the disturbances and said the National Guard and state Highway Patrol troopers would be sent in to help police in Charlotte restore and maintain order.

Charlotte police chief Kerr Putney initially reported a person shot during the protest had died, but city officials later posted a Twitter message saying the individual had been hospitalised in critical condition on life support.

The city also said the gunshot was fired by one civilian at another, not by police. A police officer was also being treated for injuries suffered during Wednesday’s protests, it said.

Putney told Fox News: “We’re trying to disperse the crowd. We’ve been very patient, but now they’ve become very aggressive, throwing bottles and so forth, at my officers, so it’s time for us now to restore order.”

The flashpoint for Charlotte’s unrest was Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of Keith Scott, 43, who according to police was armed with a handgun and refused officers’ orders to drop the weapon. His family and a witness to the shooting said Scott was holding a book, not a firearm.

Authorities have not released any video of the incident but the city’s mayor said she would view the footage.

Governor Pat McCrory said he was acting at the request of the Charlotte police chief in sending National Guard and state troopers to assist local law enforcement.

“Any violence directed toward our citizens or police officers or destruction of property should not be tolerated,” McCrory said in a statement.

The latest trouble began with a peaceful rally that turned violent after several hundred chanting demonstrators marched through downtown with brief stops at a black church, police headquarters and a large entertainment venue called the EpiCentre.

As they approached downtown Charlotte’s central intersection, protesters confronted a column of patrol cars and officers in front of the Omni Charlotte Hotel and began to surround groups of police and their vehicles.

Police then unleashed volleys of rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse protesters, who began hurling fireworks and debris at officers outside the hotel.

The confrontation grew more intense as a phalanx of helmeted police carrying shields advanced down a street, pushing back a crowd of demonstrators who scurried for cover as officers fired more tear gas.

Protesters smashed windows and glass doors at a nearby Hyatt hotel, whose manager said two employees were punched. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted on windows.

Sixteen officers were injured late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday as police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators who hurled stones, set fires and briefly blocked an interstate highway. — Reuters


Four men held after boat sinks in Egypt

CAIRO — Egyptian prosecutors remanded four men in custody yesterday on suspicion of people trafficking after a migrant boat capsize in which dozens are feared to have drowned, judicial and security officials said.

The four suspects are accused of involuntary manslaughter and human trafficking, the officials said.

The boat, which had been carrying almost 600 people, capsized off Egypt’s coast on Wednesday, killing at least 43.

It sank in the Mediterranean Sea off Burg Rashid, a village in the northern Beheira province. Officials said 31 bodies had been found — 20 men, 10 women and one child. A Reuters correspondent later saw a fishing boat bring in 12 more bodies, bringing the total so far to 43.

Rescue workers have so far saved 154 people, officials said.

AFP reported Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed saying hospitals were being prepared to receive more casualties.

“Initial information indicates the boat sank because it was carrying more people than its limit. The boat tilted and the migrants fell into the water,” a senior security official in Beheira told Reuters.

The boat had been carrying Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean, and Somali migrants, officials said.

“The boat sunk. My three children died,” a survivor, Badr Abdel Hamid, 28, told AFP from a hospital room in Rosetta before breaking into tears.

“Half an hour after we left, the boat capsized. Whoever knew how to swim, swam. We even abandoned the women and children,” another survivor said.

At a coastguard checkpoint in Burg Rashid, where the Mediterranean meets the Nile, dozens gathered, anxiously waiting for news of missing relatives.

“I am not going to leave until I see Mohamed,” Ratiba Ghonim wailed. Her 16-year-old brother had left an impoverished village nearby in search of a better life.

“It is his destiny to leave yesterday and come back dead today. They still haven’t pulled his body out of the water.”

It was not immediately clear where the boat had been heading. Officials said they believed it was going to Italy.

World leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had gathered in New York this week at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the migrant crisis. — Agencies

French riot police clash with migrants

CALAIS (France) — Hundreds of migrants trying to make their way to Britain from Calais in northern France clashed with French riot police yesterday, police said.

Police used tear-gas grenades and led charges to disperse migrants trying to make their way to the approach road for Calais port.

The clashes took place not far from where a British-financed wall is being built to seal off the road, where migrants frequently try to jump on trucks bound
for Britain.

According French media, refugees have been setting up barricades on the road at night to slow down trucks and stow away on them.

Several people, including teenagers, have lost their lives in road accidents in the past.

Earlier yesterday, former president Nicolas Sarkozy was in Calais campaigning to return to the presidency in an election in April, promising to be particularly tough on immigration.

Sarkozy, who signed an agreement in 2003 which effectively put the British border on mainland France, said during the visit it was not up to France “to be England’s border guards”, and called for the deal to be renegotiated.

Under the current arrangement, thousands of migrants fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have built a shanty town near Calais known as “the Jungle”, which French authorities are currently dismantling.
— Reuters


One step closer to UN climate deal

UNITED NATIONS — An agreement to fight global warming came one step closer to taking effect on Wednesday when dozens of countries deposited their ratification of the deal at the United Nations (UN), taking the total to 60, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. The deal, agreed by nearly 200 countries in Paris last December, needs ratification by at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to take effect. Ban said the 60 countries represented more than 47.5 per cent. The UN said 14 countries, representing 12.58 per cent of emissions, have committed to joining the agreement this year, which would allow the threshold of 55 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions to be reached. The binding global deal would slash greenhouse gases, keeping global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. — Reuters

Germany calls for temporary no-fly zone in Syria

BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called for a temporary no-fly zone for military aircraft in Syria of up to seven days following the bombing of an aid convoy near Aleppo. “The situation in Syria is now on a knife edge,” Steinmeier said according to a statement tweeted by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin yesterday. “If the ceasefire is to stand any chance (of succeeding), the only path is a temporary, but complete ban of all military aircraft movement in Syria — or at least three days, better would be seven days,” Steinmeier said. US Secretary of State John Kerry demanded on Wednesday that Russia and the Syrian government immediately halt flights over Syrian battle zones, in what he called a last chance to salvage a collapsing ceasefire. — Reuters

Giant Slow Food festival kicks off in Italy

TURIN — One of the world’s biggest gourmet food and wine fairs opened yesterday in Turin, with this year’s edition taking its tasting sessions, workshops and street food parties to the streets for the first time. Hundreds of thousands of visitors will be able to explore offerings from across the world at food trucks, on themed tours or at the Via del Gelato, while others work up an appetite at cinema screenings or debates. The Salone del Gusto fair, which runs until Sept 26, is organised by the Slow Food movement and Terra Madre network of food communities, and brings together some 7,000 delegates from 143 countries across five continents. Slow Food was founded in 1986 in the Turin region by food critic and sociologist Carlo Petrini in reaction to the opening of the first fast-food restaurants in Italy. The association aims to educate the public on different tastes, defend biodiversity and promote a food production model that is respectful of the environment and cultural identities. Today, the movement has 100,000 members in 160 countries. — AFP

jason day 0923

Day has eyes on top prize

MIAMI — Jason Day has been careful in plotting his return from the back injury that forced him out the BMW Championship this month, but that doesn’t mean he’s lowering his sights at this week’s PGA Tour Championship.

The world No 1 from Australia is one of five players who go into the tournament at East Lake in Atlanta, Georgia, with a chance to claim the FedExCup playoff bonus.

Although he could finish as low as tied for third and still have a chance of capturing the prize, he said he’s treating the week as a must-win.

“It’s either winning or nothing else matters,” Day said. “That’s the mentality that I have to go into because, if I finish second, that’s great and all, but it may not win me the trophy.

“So I’ve got to go in with the mentality that I have to win.”

Day thinks a victory could also give him a shot at Player of the Year honours, an award voted on by Tour members which many believed US Open champion Dustin Johnson wrapped up with his victory at the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick.

Both players have won three times this season, with Johnson’s trio of titles including his breakthrough Major triumph at Oakmont.

“If I win four times, win the FedEx Cup . . . I’m hoping that pushes me over the line if I win,” Day said.

“If we both finish tied fifth (at the Tour Championship), he obviously deserves it. My biggest thing is I’ve got to win, and if I win, that hopefully pushes me over the edge.”

Johnson tops the FedExCup standings, and the race for the US$10 million (RM41.36 million) bonus that goes with the title.

He has won three of his last nine tournaments and has finished in the top 10 in his last three Tour Championship starts — tying for 10th in 2012, finishing fifth the following year and closing with a 64 last year to tie for fifth, five shots behind winner Jordan Spieth.

American Patrick Reed is second in the standings and is one of the five players guaranteed to take home the Cup with a victory this week. He won the first playoff event, the Barclays, tied for fifth in the Deutsche Bank Championship and tied for 13th at Crooked Stick.

Johnson and Reed are paired together for the first round, while Day will play alongside compatriot Adam Scott, who has finished in the top 10 in all three playoff events and comes in ranked third in the playoff standings ahead of Day and England’s Paul Casey.

While the elite 30-man field will offer plenty of formidable competition, Day said his back won’t be a factor.

“I wasn’t able to go the gym as much, missed a few massage sessions with my guy,” Day said of the trouble that struck in Indiana.

“Muscles turn off, and then my back goes out. But I learned from it. I’m going to try and get better,” said the Aussie, who said he’s back in his routine for dealing with the annular tear of a disc in his spine, which requires keeping up with specialised exercises. — AFP

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